Thursday, 14 June 2018

For Ridley

Tonight was the last day of Ridley. The last time we gathered together as this specific community to celebrate an amazing year and send people off to the next thing.

We have been part of the Ridley community for Three wonderful years. In that time we have attended two leavers services. This one, the third one was different because its us who are going. Us who are being sent off into the big wide world. 

It was a great send off on a day filled with glorious sunshine and nearly everyone had tears streaming down their faces as we left the church.  

Not me though. I am an introverted feeler and struggle with processing my emotions in public. I looked with envy at those who are free to process and display emotion during an event. What a release! I need to make time afterwards to take stock and reflect.

These words are my tears.

We first came to visit Ridley on another bright sunny day in the autumn of 2014. Cambridge was picture perfect, the freshly minted academic year was showing off, all crisp leaves and shiny pencil cases.
As we stepped out of our little 3 door Toyota Yaris a fleet of bicycles swept past. I will never forget Matts face! He was convinced it was some sort of bike rally or demonstration. It took me ages to convince him that it was just another busy Wednesday afternoon in the heart of Cambridge.

I loved Ridley the minute I set eyes on it. Red brick and comfortable in its stateliness. Not fancy and showy off like some of the Cambridge colleges, it has a clear purpose and aim. This is a place of diligence and industry and anyone is welcome, not just the super bright.

At the heart of the quad is the chapel, just small enough to feel really cosy during a service, like a family gathering where you all cram in a living room that you’ve outgrown. In our first year you could sneak up the spiral staircase and onto the balcony if you arrived late. Sheepishly lean your back up against the cool stained glass window and put your feet up on an amp.

The roof of the chapel is beautiful wood and designed to look like the curved and upturned hull of a ship. I loved that so much, the thought of us all sailing in that ship together through the rough waters and smooth has carried me through many times. 

My Great grandfather was a student at Ridley Hall, years and years ago. My grandmother told me how she would cycle in from Grantchester where they lived during her boarding school holidays to play croquet with the ordinands. I fancied I could see spectres of them crossing the lawn nothing really changes.

I always felt like I belonged here somehow.

On our way home I told Matt that he could suit himself but I was going to Ridley! Luckily he agreed and the following June we packed up our lives and moved into our little shabby chic Cambridge house.

In our first year at Ridley there was a huge intake of students which meant there was a LOT of us. The common room heaved with life and noise and sweat every Thursday when we met for afternoon tea before chapel. There were also lots of families and lots of pregnant people. That year, the year that Clara came along there were ten babies born in total to different families.

Lots of advice and hand-me-downs, Ridley was the best and the worst place to be pregnant, something I’ve written about before. But when Clara arrived, Ridley people cooked for us for two full weeks and were so encouraging and supportive. I remember limping into Ridley with the pram for the first time, incredibly sore from my stitches and the overwhelming feeling of love and support from the community as they welcomed her.

The spouse community was amazing. Though the first impression I got of it as a well-oiled machine was somewhat misleading as I later found out. I think mainly because it was made of people and therefore far from perfect. There were disagreements, bruised parts and areas of brokenness. It also changed a lot in the three years we were here, and not necessarily in an outwardly successful way. Though to me it was wonderful. Whether its thirty or three people, community is precious and I have loved the ever changing nature complicit with somewhere like Ridley.

That first summer term was incredible. Croquet on the lawn while the baby slept. Watching England matches in the common room and getting to know people better. Matt worked hard and got good grades and the long summer holidays were upon us in a flash.

Ridley has really given us the gift of time as a family. Matt has been so flexible and the holidays were so long that we were able to find our way as new parents first to one and then two little girls.
We were determined for them (and me!) to continue to be a part of the community and so committed to a late bedtime on a Thursday night. This often led to horrible tired and grumpy Friday mornings but I wouldn’t have swapped it for the world. It was incredible for me because Clara would stay in the creche run by the ordinands so I got to sit through a whole service uninterrupted and she had an amazing time with them, more community in action.  

We said goodbye to the leavers that first year blithe in the knowledge that we had two more years left. It wasn’t until the following year that I heard this phrase and how I viewed Ridley changed forever…

We come to leave.

The point of Ridley is that we are learning how to be vicars and vicar spouses. We are learning the skills to build and nurture community wherever we go. We learn precisely so that we can take what we have learned and put it into practice somewhere else  

We come to leave.

In Ridley people are mixed ages, strong and dynamic, lots of young families and such a passion for the lord. The church sadly doesn’t yet look like this everywhere.

So we come to leave.  

Us Ridley graduates, we are called to passionately love the church, to support, grow and change it all from the inside. What a joy what a privilege, what an utterly terrifying prospect.

We come to leave.

But as we do leave, here is my reflection…
Ridley has been and complete joy to us, genuinely three of the happiest years of my life so far. The people we’ve met here have been some of the best and big hearted, interesting and intelligent people I’ve ever known. I am so excited that they will be using all we’ve learned here together to serve people in the wider community.

 Also we became parents while we were here. In some ways Ridley will always be synonymous with this seismic season of early motherhood. I remember rushing into the common room the Thursday of our first scan waving the picture at anyone who would look! I was sitting in chapel the first time I felt the unborn Sylvie kick, and watched Clara took her first steps on that big beautiful lawn. Saw her learn how to laugh and joke with safe adults in a safe place, learning about the wider church family at such a little age, knowing that she is part of something bigger.  And just a million other tiny fragments and memories which I don’t want to forget.

But now its time to leave.

Because you see, Ridley is an ever changing community. People leave every year and no one stays longer than three so every two to three years the community reinvents itself, a slightly different focus and priorities. A slightly different mix of passions and skill sets. It was there long before we came and I hope it will be there long after. Yet there is nothing new under the sun. it all seems to come around and goes around again, ever changing ever constant.

So Ridley Hall we will be forever greatful. For all we’ve learned, the cups of tea, the table football. The croquet in the summer term and the joyous balls. Sweaty chapel services and school dinner teas on a Thursday night. For the beautiful moments and the hard ones.

We are so very grateful.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

All She Wants.

We celebrated Claras second birthday a couple of weeks ago. 

the two year old!

It seems since then she has been growing up at an alarming rate, not least in the amount of words and phrases that are popping out.
She is fully committed to ‘adulting’ and spends half her time astutely observing what we do and the other half copying it…

In church this week she grabbed a service sheet, sat on the chair next to us and then attempted to cross her legs like I was doing (nearly falling off her seat in the process!) I was in hysterics as I often am observing the way that she observes me.

Adulting at a furniture shop
 (her 'grass' magazine is upside down 😆)

Its basically one part hilarious and two parts terrifying.

terrifyingly if I leave my phone in another room she will chase after me clutching it shouting ‘phone mummy PHONE!!’ As she has drawn the conclusion (I don’t know where from!) that my phone is somehow essential to my existence, and without it I might drop down dead. Eek. (maybe over phone use while parenting is a topic for another day.)

Interestingly enough, with all her busyness the most frequent thing that she says to me at the moment is..


Generally as I am rushing around attempting to achieve any number of tasks in a very short space of time, and really really do not want to sit down. She fixes those big serious eyes on me with an insistent and unwavering gaze and tells me to sit.

All she wants is for me to sit along side her while she draws or plays with the sand or her dolls. She craves my company and my presence next to her.

This morning she just wanted to lie down on the floor and pretend to be asleep next to me while I did the same. Then she got up, kissed me, bid me goodnight and pottered off into another room! Actually it wasn’t a bad way to spend ten minutes!!

Now written down like that it really doesn’t seem like such a big deal -  she wants me to sit so I should sit! But of course it isn’t always that simple. Apart from anything else she isn’t the only Broughton girl who craves my attention and company (hello Sylvie Joy!) and then there’s all the other stuff of life that needs to be attended to.

But all that said I’ve been thinking recently that just sitting with Clara should surely be my priority. How long is she going to want me there with her, inviting me to come into the growing and secret world of her imagination?

It reminds me of with my relationship with God as well, often I put off and put off spending time with him but when I finally open up my bible or just light a candle and sit still, his presence is there, it never left. It isn’t hard or unobtainable, he just wants me to sit.    

So there you go, I am going to attempt to be a little more present and a little more willing to drop what I am doing to join Clara in what she’s doing, and in those rare moments I have to myself I’m going to ask God to come and sit with me a while.

Monday, 2 April 2018

See What I See

My lent reflection ‘The Hearts Time’ is a poem as day throughout lent. One of the poems that really struck me was ‘sheep fair day’ by Kerry Hardie. In the poem she explores the following quote…

 ‘The real aim is not to see God in all things, it is that God, through us, should see all the things that we see’ Simone Weil

She uses it as the base for her descriptive poem inviting God to see her day as she sees it – to experience it with her. The reflection from the poem encouraged trying to do the same with an account of a typical day in your own life so here it is….

Good Morning, come join me as I creak myself out of bed, sleepy eyed husband on my left putting off beginning the day. Between us once again is the baby who was lonely in the night. Now she sleeps in the warm bliss of a forbidden bed, arms raised senital above her head, resolutely slumbering now that we have to rise.
From next door float the conversational tones of the toddler as she poses a serious question to her rabbit. soon the pleasant chat becomes interspersed with complaints as she shouts for release and for milk.

Sit with me and share the first cup of many cups of tea on this normal day. One hand attempts to spoon food to the baby while the other pulls out clothes for the toddler, one job at a time is a luxury I can't afford these days. I wonder.. could you just take her to the toilet? she's desperate and the baby needs her milk thanks so much and do remind her to wash her hands say thank you now love no please don't grab if you want it ask politely no more TV this morning you've really had enough.

Come and walk with us through the park, we'll wave at other early morning people, I like these quiet moments, watching those that are heading to work with their important clothes and serious bags.

At the group we will intermingle with the other tired parents smiling sleepily and raising conspiratorial eyebrows over bumps, potties and toddler squabbles, half-finished conversations and luke warm tea. If parenthood is the battlefield then this is the sergeants mess. A chance to come up for air and debrief.  
You are welcome here, you won't be judged. within three minutes I will be sharing my most intimate labour story with a woman whose first name I have forgotten. I can feel the way you lean in, take another biscuit and listen with careful loving intent; You care deeply for these moments don’t you? You know the power of simple story telling especially when the memories being shared are the ones that can change a woman; make and unmake her all at the same time, the ones we repeat over and over again through the years...

Because these are the stories that matter.

Come home again and grab a bite to eat. (don't mind the crying she’s just tired) Watch the baby smack her lips and wave her arms for more, laugh out loud as the toddler applies hummus liberally to her face and grins.

Once they are full and laid gently to sleep in their cots we can get cracking on the daily workout. This is a bit embarrassing but it's you so I don't mind. Let's do star jumps, lunges and sit-ups. 

I am learning to love my body better all the time, for its faithfulness and it's strength the way it grows and pushes out babies. the odd grey hair and a stretched out tummy button. Exercise helps. Time to jump high and push myself just because I can. You made the human body, pulled it out of dust and creative energy, we are created in your image, I see that clearly as we laugh and sweat. I get us some water and you revel in the cool clear taste just like you did once by a dusty well with a Samaritan woman.

In the afternoon we take the toddler to the park and it pours with rain. She doesn't care, she is delirious with happiness over a whippet dog chasing a red ball. We link arms in silence and watch her as she digs in the mud, stirring with a stick. I feel your steady affection for her, steadier than mine which ebbs and flows sometimes. 

You came up with the idea of this girl. You knew everything about her before she came into being. You knew that one day she would be this person, covered in mud and alive with wonder at the newly sodden world. you know everything about this child and love her so deeply. I just grew her. But you let me and for that I am so grateful.

You lend the tired girl your shoulders on the way home and end up with a muddy face from where her grubby little hand stroked your cheek, I hope she always leans on you like she's doing now, that she knows she can come to you no matter how dirty her hands become.
 Lets share a meal together and talk with the love of my life. you ask him how he is, I can see you reading between the bare lines of his day, you know him so well, know the words to reassure him over the niggly bits. Once again I am so grateful that you are at the heart of this marriage, this family.

We'll hustle the kids through the bath, she will want one last story with her milk and she likes to turn the light off herself. Sit with me as I cradle the baby (hopefully!) for the last time until morning. Drink in her pink cheeks and long eyelashes. the way she feeds so beautifully with her chubby cheeks drawing in and out. 

Breastfeeding still feels like such a gift to me and I don't take it lightly. Thank you. It's dark and quiet in here, you might feel your eyelids grow heavy and not want to get up again when she’s finally laid down to sleep.

Downstairs we'll probably watch some TV. I hope you don't mind Masterchef we're a little bit addicted right now. We go early to bed as sleep is a commodity we can't always count on. stay for a bit longer and listen to a chapter of the book he's reading out to me. Its excellent, and then watch as the lights go off and we drift off with the occasional murmur to each other as we remember things, and then the sweetness of sleep.



So there you have it – a day in my life where I invited god to come along for the ride. I actually found it a really significant thing to imagine and explore. In the end I think its really helped me to see where God fits in throughout my days with the girls.
 I would encourage you to try your own version!

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Handing her Dignity

SJ meets avocado
Sometimes I feel like I'm winning at parenthood. Other times it kicks my ass. I'm afraid to say that a lot of moments over the past few weeks have been more akin to the latter. Allow me to illuminate you.

We have been struggling with lack of sleep recently which retrospectively makes my decision to potty train Clara slightly bemusing.

Ah retrospect.

Meanwhile Sylvie turned six months old so we've been attempting to convince her to eat something other than breastmilk which she is somewhat resistant to..! 

Potty training has encompassed some of the most unglamorous, time consuming and quite frankly minging moments of parenthood so far. 

That said, its not all bad! For one thing, you would not believe the natural high available from seeing the understanding click and catching those first few wees in the potty.

Another factor to consider is the look of immense pride on her face as she realises that she has ultimate control over her body. There is no doubt that by initiating this process I am handing her dignity.

Let's just say that the highs have been high and the lows have been low! her new favourite place to wee is on the front seat of the car in her travel potty. Slightly embarrassing if someone's parked a bit close!!

Oh and bubbles made a big difference, we love bubbles. 

There were times over the past couple of weeks where Clara was having multiple accidents a day, Sylvie was point blank refusing food and we had barely had 4 hours sleep in the night between the two of them.

Dark times, times when Matt and I exchanged a wordless look which said something along the lines of 'what the hell are we doing?!'

It should be said that generally I really really love having such a small age gap, however it does make moments like this feel particularly relentless.

glorious twosome

Still, no matter how hard things are, I've found that there is grace in the hard moments, little pockets of niceness and mornings like this one..

we stayed home from toddler group and hung out in our PJS, the girls played beautifully, I made muffins and Clara effortlessly did every wee on the potty like a pro. Meanwhile Sylvie polished off all her breakfast. (Okay she was still up 3 times last night but we've never claimed to be aiming for perfection!)

Because let's face it, everything that we've done so far on this parenting journey has been basically one step forward and two steps back. It's a winding road and the maps aren't very good. Slow and steady seems to be the order of the day, consistency and joy in the little things.

It's hard being a parent. For all these reasons and more. Sometimes I feel like on the 12th April 2016 aliens staged a hostile takeover of my brain body and heart and I've been paddling hard to keep up ever since. Struggling to think or write about anything else.

Single friends of mine recently visited for the day and we went for a child free coffee and discussed all sorts of things that had nothing to do with bowel movements! Let me tell you it was a treat! I'm so firmly ensconced in the small child trenches right now that I can't imagine a life that isn't focused around these littles.

I went running not so long ago and God reminded me that I am in fact still me. That there will come a time when the children will be independent and I will have to reimagine life all over again.

There are times that I can't wait for that day to come, though doubtless when it does I won't even notice. Like all the real wins in parenthood it will be a quiet and gradual process without fanfare or hype. 

Until then I will doubtless continue to bite off more than I can chew in the parenting stakes and find some of it incredibly hard, but I know that there will also always be the most amazing flashes of brightness along the way.  

Who doesn't love company whilst on the loo?

Monday, 13 November 2017

For Montgenevre

Around November the air starts to smell crisp and cold, and it always reminds me of the year I ran away. 
I was a bit lost, passively heading towards the end of my job contract, not wanting to renew it but also unsure what should come next.
Someone passed on my name and before I knew it I'd had a phone conversation with a woman I had never met, and agreed a day. I found a replacement for my house share, packed my bags and got on a plane. When I arrived in the ski resort it was cold but the snow was yet to arrive.

The anticipation hung heavy in the air, a normal mountain village waiting waiting waiting for the magic to arrive. Advent is like this. waiting waiting waiting for the saviour to come and renew us once again.

waiting for hope waiting for purification.

When the snow finally came the excitement was palpable, people gearing up for the season, lift passes and freshly waxed skis, there was a feeling that anything could happen. Overnight the village became a winter paradise all trace of the banal gone under the spectacular white coat. The mountains took on a blinding new beauty.

It was the tenth of December when the snow fell that year.

By March it was melting, much too early, running in dirty rivulets down the chalet drainpipes.
By March my heart would be broken, my face bruised and I would be longing for home.
But I couldn't know that. Not then.
It was early December, and I was poised; ready for it all.

This is the feeling which comes back to me every year at this time. the feeling of a great adventure just around the corner. A chance to rewrite who I might become.

I came back from that time a sadder, wiser, stronger person. This has become synonymous in my heart with the season of advent, hope and uncertainty, sudden joy and the significance of a time of great change.

I recently found this piece of writing about Montgenevre that I wrote the following year but never shared;

Sometimes the remembering hurts.
It can double me over, this longing to be back where I was daily soaked in beauty, inhaling it with every breath until it was reflected in my own eyes, my own skin.

Time worked in strange ways those winter months; I shared a tiny bedroom and sat freezing for hours in the roof of the little wishing well for just a bit of stolen space.

The people around me were beautiful and hurting, escaping and making for themselves a life, of sorts. I think that they were boldly hiding. The longing for something more, thick on their breath in the icy air.

I don’t know whether it was the season, or the romance promised in every clear and starry night, but I fell so hopelessly in love and was badly hurt, sobbing into my worn sheets. 
But there was healing also to be found, like the day that I cast off loneliness, dressed up in a ridiculous sunshine yellow ski suit and paraded through the town to make a friend smile. 

and in the freedom, oh the boundless freedom of the steeps and slides of the mountain slopes. The recollection of flying down through the untouched snow with the wind in my hair and joy so full in my wild heart will stay with me ever long.

Those days were so precious. I can still see myself waking up with the dawn, putting mittens on my chapped and weary hands.Walking across the snow to work, eyes, which should have been bleary but instead were wide and alive with wonder,

Captivated, by the God of the Mountains.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Mad Life

Right now everything is a bit crazy.

My life feels like one of those confusing riddles where you need to get the cat the crocodile and the tin of cat food to the other side of the pond in the boat in two trips without any casualties, except with a baby and a toddler rather than carnivorous animals, (so not too much of a difference there then!)

I have to think so hard about the most basic of things because I cant leave Clara alone with Sylvie, so at any given moment I am carting one or both of them along to wherever it is I need to go to (toilet, car to get the buggy, etc.) I’ve never been so grateful for having such a tiny house, as whilst sitting on the loo when I have a clear line of sight through the kitchen and the reception rooms straight to the front door, handy!

Honestly most days my sanity hangs in the balance and the name of that balance is

Nap time.

Generally the girls have a precious 45 mins of lovely nap crossover which enables me to rush around like a crazy person completing the bare minimum of household tasks before collapsing in front of the TV with a Jaffa cake (or 12) before one of them wakes up and the relentlessness begins again.

The sheer effort to get the three of us dressed and out of the house is mind boggling. So much so that by the end of the day it is not an exaggeration to say that I feel totally wrecked, from my aching back to my dry skin.

We are massively lucky that both girls are in bed by 7 most nights so we do have the evenings to ourselves but generally I’m in bed by 9:30 to cope with the broken sleep that comes with night feeding and those two and a half hours sure do fly…!

When Claras finally asleep and I’m giving Sylvie a cuddle and a feed, really looking into her lovely little face for what feels the first time all day I have a mix of total joy and guilt. When Clara was this age I feel like I watched her every move and planned special activities for her development.

With Sylvie I barely do more than glance at her or send up a quick prayer of thanks that she’s chilling on the bouncer not making any fuss so I can get on with chasing or placating the (seemingly insatiable) toddler.

The wonderful saving grace of this craziness is breastfeeding. It truly forces me to stop and slow down, and engage with my beautiful second born girl. I wrote a little poem reflecting on this recently…

Autumn Sun streams through the window
and her cheeks move rhymically in and out,

it stops me in my busy tracks, this act of life,
enforces the connecting thread between us.

her eyes are narrowed against the sun as she neatly does the work that all babies have done

since the beginning of time.

some days I will her to be finished before shes even started to claim back this part of myself

other days I savour every second and know it for the joy it can be.

it's mundane and it's magic this thing, hard and holy.

Generally Clara likes to get as close as possible when i'm feeding Sylvie!!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

The Toddler

She pushes and she pulls 

the world is open for business and she wants it all.

Strong; because it hasnt occurred to her to be anything else quite yet,

Fragile; this child is made of human and she hasn't learned how to mask it.

Fraustrated; shes thwarted and her back is arched, she shouts her fury loud twisting in her wrath.

Brave; eyes big, next thing in her sights, head first leaping into thin air.

Silly; a keen sense for the ridiculous already,  tights on her head rushing around shouting and trailing blessed laughter in her wake. 

Bright; Lit up with all the new information shes processing every day, scrutinizing every leaf and stone for hidden meaning.

Independant and so very needy, a perfect contradiction with my eyes and his mouth, his sense of humour, my stubbornness and so much that belongs only to her. 

Clara has accelerated into toddlerhood since Sylvie arrived. Sometimes shes so big and beautiful and clever that I can't stand it. 

During those moments I think I'll explode with the sheer force of pride for every new word, every independent step she makes into the world, every time she chooses to wrap her chubby arms round my neck when she could be doing something else.

and then there are the other toddler moments,

The dark ones.

The times when she goes stiff as a board and screams her lungs out in the library because I've tried to put her in the pushchair.

Or when she hits her baby sister then looks at me agog for my response.

Even the times she wakes from her nap and cries inconsolably for half an hour regardless of everything I do to try and make it better.

Those times I feel hot shame and fraustration at how little I can really control this person that we have made and nurtured .

She is making the moves towards independence, there's no mistaking it. Shes bold this daughter of mine, she asks for what she wants in life (okay sometimes she screams for it!) It's scary and wonderful watching her become who shes going to be, sometimes I feel utterly helpless in the face of a person so separate to me and yet still so dependant. 

for the first time since she was born I've really questioned myself with how I'm responding to her behaviour, I'm aware that these are the moments that can mark a person emotionally and I want so much to parent her well. 

I'm discovering that being a parent to a toddler really brings me to the end of myself. I could weep with fraustration and then circle all the way back to rapturous joy again, sometimes all in the space of ten minutes!
Though I believe that strong boundaries are very important I also have to recognise that she is beginning to make her own decisions, and these need a certain amount of respect. Shes testing the waters in every sense and she needs the space to do that, though she also needs 
to learn that actions have consequences. 

It's so tempting to want to control a toddler but  I am learning that she needs me to have the strength to step back sometimes, to let her be herself. Of course to still say 'No' when I need too but also for that to not be the only thing that I'm conveying to her. 

So there you have it, these are my days at the moment, silliness and kisses, fun and tantrums; Clara Evangeline in all her wonderful, frustrating complexity.